Influences on the Physical Demands of International Women s Sevens Rugby

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1 Influences on the Physical Demands of International Women s Sevens Rugby Jan Reyneke A thesis submitted to the Auckland University of Technology In fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy (MPhil) 2016 Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences

2 Table of Contents LIST OF TABLES... iv ATTESTATION OF AUTHORSHIP... v CO-AUTHORED WORKS... vi INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS... vii ETHICAL APPROVAL... viii NOTE TO READER... ix ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS... x ABSTRACT... xi CHAPTER INTRODUCTION... 1 Thesis Rationale... 1 Structure of the Thesis... 3 Significance of Research... 3 Research Questions... 4 Originality of Research... 4 Limitations of Research... 5 Delimitations of Research... 5 CHAPTER LITERATURE REVIEW... 6 Influences on the Physical Demands of Female Rugby Sevens Match Play... 6 Introduction... 6 Performance Analysis of Male and Female Rugby Sevens Match Play... 7 Time Motion Analysis in Rugby Sevens... 8 Notational Analysis in Sevens Rugby Conclusion CHAPTER THE PHYSICAL DEMANDS OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN S RUGBY SEVENS MATCH PLAY Preface ii

3 Introduction Methods Experimental Approach to the Problem Subjects Procedure Statistical Analysis Results Differences Between Positional Groups Differences Between Pool and Cup Matches Discussion Conclusion Practical Applications CHAPTER THE INFLUENCE OF SCORE DIFFERENTIAL ON THE PHYSICAL DEMANDS OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN S SEVENS MATCH PLAY Preface Introduction Methods Experimental Approach to the Problem Subjects Procedure Statistical Analysis Results Discussion Conclusion Practical Applications CHAPTER SUMMARY, PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTION Summary Practical Applications Future Research Directions REFERENCES APPENDICES iii

4 LIST OF TABLES Table 1. Summary of GPS data inclusion criteria in sevens research... 9 Table 2. Summary of total distances covered during matches using GPS Table 3. Summary of differences in positional running demands in men s rugby sevens Table 4. Summary of notational analysis studies perform on men s rugby sevens 18 Table 5. Summary of match activities performed during sevens match play Table 6. Operational definitions of match activities of international women s rugby sevens players Table 7. Operational definitions of ball in play scenarios of international women s rugby sevens players Table 8. Individual running demands and match activities Table 9. Running demands and match activities for pool and cup matches Table 10. Total time, ball in play time, ball in play and recovery cycles for pool and cup games Table 11. Operational definitions of match activities of international women s rugby sevens players Table 12. Operational definitions of ball in play scenarios of international women s rugby sevens players Table 13. Differences in running demands (m/min) for games with low (<21) and high ( 21) score differentials Table 14. Differences in number of match activities for games with low (<21) and high ( 21) score differentials iv

5 ATTESTATION OF AUTHORSHIP I hereby declare that this submission is my own work and that to the best of my knowledge and belief, it contains no material previously published or written by another person nor material which to a substantial extent has been accepted for the qualification of any degree or diploma of a university or other institution of higher learning, except where due acknowledgement is made. Jan Reyneke v

6 CO-AUTHORED WORKS The following manuscripts are in the preparation for submission for peer reviewed journal publication as a result of the work presented in this thesis. Reyneke, J., Hansen, K., Cronin, J., and Malcata, R. An investigation into the physical demands of international women s rugby sevens match play. (Targeted journal International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance) Reyneke, J., Hansen, K., Cronin, J., and Allen, S. An investigation into the influence of score differential on the physical demands of international women s rugby sevens match play. (Targeted journal - International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance) vi

7 INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS This thesis may be utilised for the purpose of research or private study provided that due acknowledgement is made where appropriate and that the author s written permission is obtained before any material from the thesis is published. I agree that the AUT University Library may copy this thesis, in electronic or photocopied form, to supply the collection of other libraries on request from those libraries. I also agree that this thesis may be photocopied for supply to any person in accordance with the provision of Section 56 of the Copyright Act vii

8 ETHICAL APPROVAL This study complied with the ethical standards for observational studies as required by Auckland University of Technology. Ethical approval was not required for the purpose of this investigation as the athletes signed agreements with the New Zealand Rugby to allow collected data to be released for research/performance purposes. viii

9 NOTE TO READER Excluding chapters one, two and five, this thesis is presented in a series of chapters in publication format, which in some instances may lead to some unavoidable repetition. This thesis fulfils the AUT University Master of Philosophy guidelines by conducting an applied research investigation in a relevant area. These pieces of research critique previous literature relevant to the topic and provide experimental application to the growing body of knowledge. ix

10 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank the following people for their individual contributions of this thesis. Dr Keir Hansen, my primary supervisor. One of the busiest men I know. I have immensely valued your constructive and thorough feedback on all aspects of this thesis. Professor John Cronin, my secondary supervisor. I cannot thank you enough for all you have done. Your energy and passion for the field of strength and conditioning has had a huge influence on me both academically and professionally. Dr Matt Kritz, for your support through the data collection period and continual support throughout my career. Your knowledge and support has been a big source of inspiration. Dr Rita Malcata, and Dr Sian Allen additional co-authors of the two studies. Thank you for always being willing to give up your time to help where you could with my analysis and statistics. I have appreciated your help in an area where I most definitely needed it. My parents and in-laws, for your continual support. I will forever be grateful. Amber, my loving and beautiful wife, for your unconditional support through this process. x

11 ABSTRACT The use of time motion analysis and match analysis to gain a better insight into the demands of match play has been well documented across various sports. The information gathered from these techniques has enabled coaches and conditioning coaches to better prescribe trainings and conditioning to suit the specific demands of match play. The World Rugby (WR) Women s Seven s Series was only established in As a consequence, research specific to the demands of match play is sparse in the women s game [1-6]. It was therefore the initial aim of this thesis to systematically review all the relevant literature pertaining to the physical demands of both men s and women s rugby sevens match play. The review highlighted some key findings in the male game that were unknown in the female game. Firstly, it was identified that there may be a difference in the match play demands between positional groups in the male game. Secondly, it would appear that a much larger gap in the physical demands of match play exists between international and domestic players in the female game when compared to the male game. Finally, the review highlighted the lack of literature pertaining to the influence of match significance and match outcomes on the physical demands of match play, specific to the female game. Following the review, Chapter 3 consisted of a longitudinal study exploring whether a difference exists in the physical demands of match play between positional groups and pool and cup games (play off). Fifteen members from a highly ranked international team (age, 24.3±3.87 years; body mass, 67.5 ± 6.31 kg; height, 168 ± 7.15 cm; mean ± SD) participated in this investigation. Global Positional System (GPS) running data, along with match play activities, were analysed to identify whether differences exist between these groups. The main findings from this study highlighted the lack of clear difference in the physical demands between positional groups. The second finding displayed an increase in the physical demands between pool and cup games. These increases however, where mainly through match activities and not the running demands. It was concluded that as the match importance increases, the demand on greater skill execution, rather than the running demands, becomes of greater significance. Following Chapter 3, another longitudinal study was conducted exploring whether the score differential in winning games influenced the physical demands of match play. The same team participated in this investigation. Winning score differentials were classified xi

12 as either small (<21 points) or large (>21 points) and GPS running data along with match play activities were analysed to identify whether differences exist. Total distances covered were moderately greater in high score differential games (3.8, ±5.2 m/min; mean difference, ±99% confidence limits). Small differences (high-low) were also observed for distance covered at the following speeds: 2-3.5m.s -1 (1.3, ±3.4 m/min), 5-6m.s -1 (0.8, ±1.5 m/min) and 6m.s -1 (1.4, ±1.6 m/min). There were moderately greater numbers of missed tackles (0.2; mean count) and lineouts (0.5) in low score differential versus high score differential games. Coaches and conditioning coaches should consider the total running and match activity demands when matches are won by large or small margins. Specific recovery protocols should be considered for matches that have either higher running demands or higher match activity demands. xii

13 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Thesis Rationale Since its inclusion into the Olympic games program, the popularity of rugby seven s has attracted increased global attention, converting it into one of the world s fastest growing sports [7]. This is no more evident in the women s game with World Rugby (WR), formally known as the international rugby board (IRB), reporting women s rugby to be one of the fastest growing forms of the game with 200,000 registered women actively competing in fifteens and sevens and 800,000 women and girls participating in leisure rugby around the world [8]. Despite this, research into the game demands in the women s game is sparse, with studies of match analysis [2, 5, 9, 10], effects of match play on neuromuscular fatigue and muscle damage [11] and the validity of a fitness test [5] the totality of research. The body of literature pertaining to the male version of the game is larger, however it is unclear whether the games share similar physical demands. Therefore, drawing conclusions based on research from the male game could be misleading. Studies into female rugby sevens have been predominantly centred around the physiological demands of match play [2, 9, 10], which have had a strong focus on the running and heart rate demands. Comparisons of the physical match demands between international and domestic [9, 11] match play and fatigue profiles across halves of play [2] have been made. Authors have reported international match play to carry a higher overall physical demand [9] when compared to domestic match play and that there is no significant decrease in performance across halves of play [2]. Although of value, these investigations have had small sample sizes and data has only been collected across one tournament. Factors such as tournament location, environmental conditions, quality of opposition, and injuries are also likely to influence a team s performance during competition [12]. Therefore, collecting data from only one tournament may not provide an accurate description of the demands across various situations. As with fifteen-a-side rugby, players are required to perform specialist activities during gameplay specific to their playing positions. These specialist activities include 1

14 scrummaging and lineouts. It has been shown that the demands of fifteen-a-side rugby is very position specific, with distinct differences in the running and match activity demands [13]. The differences in the demands between positional groups in rugby sevens have been explored in the male game [14-18]. It would appear some differences do exist between positional groups in the male version of the game that may have important implications to specific preparation practices. To date no such research exists in the female game. One unique aspect of rugby sevens is that it is played in a tournament format over one to two consecutive days. A typical tournament consists of two to three pool matches on the first day of play, followed by two-three play off matches (cup matches) on day two. Little is known of whether there is any change in the physical demands as the significance of the matches changes from pool to cup games. A better understanding of the specific demands of matches would aid coaches and conditioning coaches in the prescription of specific recovery protocols. A recent investigation in the male game [15] showed no significant differences between the demands of pool and cup games. With a more established world series, it would seem the male game has a relatively stable competition. No research to date has explored the influence of match significance in the female game. Only one study to date has investigated the influence of the score line on the activity profiles in the male version of the game [19]. The authors reported that players are likely to perform more running against higher ranked opponents when the score line is close. Previous research into football [20-22], rugby league [23, 24] and Australian rules football [25] have investigated the influence of the quality of opposition and the effect of match outcome score differential on the physical demands with contrasting results. Investigations into football and Australian football rules have reported less successful teams perform a greater amount of physical activity during match play. Researchers investigating rugby league however, have reported the opposite with more successful teams completing a greater amount of physical activity during match play. The authors suggested that the ability of more successful teams to maintain a higher physical intensity to be a competitive advantage. A better understanding into the influence of match outcomes on the physical demands will provide coaches and strength and conditioners with a more accurate description of the demands from game to game 2

15 which in turn, should aid in the prescription of appropriate trainings, rest and recovery protocols. No such research exists to date in women s rugby sevens. It is clear that further research into the influences on match physical demands is warranted in women s rugby sevens. To date, no research on the match demands exists that has collected data from multiple tournaments or from WR World Series tournaments. It is not known if differences exist between positional groups or if the significance of the match has an influence on the game demands. Likewise, no literature exists exploring the influence of the score differential on the physical demands of match play. Structure of the Thesis This thesis is presented as a series of chapters including original research and a review of the current relevant literature. Chapter 2 is a review of the current literature pertaining to both male and female rugby sevens match play demands. As literature specific to female rugby sevens is limited, the majority of literature particular to rugby sevens in the review was conducted on the male game. Likewise, literature pertaining to the influence of the quality of opposition and match outcomes is limited in rugby sevens and therefore will highlight findings from football, rugby league and Australian rules football. Chapter 3 will present the results from a prospective longitudinal study exploring the running demands and match activity demands of international women s rugby sevens. Comparisons will be drawn between positional groups and pool games versus cup games. Chapter 4 will present the findings from another prospective longitudinal study investigating the influence on the score differential of the match outcome on the physical demands of match play. Finally, Chapter 5 will provide a summary, practical applications and directions for future research. Significance of Research It is well accepted that a sound understanding of the physical demands of match play is necessary in order to ensure physical training is prescribed in a manner that will aid in the improvement of performance. Identification of the potential differences in factors such as playing position, aids in the development of more specific physical conditioning programming that meet the unique individual demands of match play. Yet to date, very little such research has been conducted in women s rugby sevens. 3

16 The influences of different conditions such as weather and match location have been shown to affect match performance [12]. Therefore, a better understanding of how certain situations or conditions influence the physical demands of match play will aid in the development of specific programming that meet these differing demands. Likewise, a better understanding of these unique situational demands aids coaches to better prescribe subsequent trainings specifically, for example, to allow for appropriate work to recovery ratios. This thesis aims to address some of these issues in order to provide a more accurate description of the physical demands of international women s rugby sevens match play across multiple situations or conditions. Research Questions It is clear that the influences on the physical demands of rugby sevens match play are multi-factorial. This thesis therefore aims to answer the following questions: Is there a difference in the physical demands of match play between the positional groups of forwards and backs in women s rugby sevens? Is there a difference in the physical demands of match play between pool matches and cup matches in women s rugby sevens? Does the score differential influence the physical demands of match play in women s rugby sevens? Originality of Research To date there have been very few investigations into international women s rugby sevens match play. No studies to date have performed any form of match performance investigation from the WR Women s Sevens World Series, which is the highest level of competition in the sport. The team who participated in this investigation were the current World Series champions at the time of investigation. No research to date has been conducted on this team. This research will provide a better understanding of some of the influences on the physical demands of women s sevens match play, which in turn, should provide coaches and strength and conditioning coaches with a better framework to prescribe trainings and recovery from competition. 4

17 Limitations of Research The participants from this study were all elite international female seven s players from the same team. Therefore, results may not be generalized to other teams. Data was only collected from the WR Women s Sevens Series tournaments. Therefore results may not be generalized to other levels of the game. Due to the success of the team, this study only analysed results from winning performances. General speed threshold bands, commonly used for the purpose of research, were applied rather than individually set thresholds. Delimitations of Research Only results of participants who completed >70% of game time was analysed. Data was collected from matches during official WR Women s Sevens Series tournaments. Data from finals games were excluded due to the extended game times (ten minute halves versus seven minute halves). 5

18 CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW Influences on the Physical Demands of Female Rugby Sevens Match Play Introduction Rugby sevens is a minute (min) game, divided into two seven to ten minute halves of repeated high intensity activities including running and body collisions. The game is usually played in a tournament format over two to three days, with teams contesting five to six matches over the course of the tournament. Rugby sevens is essentially played under the same rules and field dimensions as rugby fifteens, however, it is played with fewer players (seven) and played for a shorter duration (14-20 min versus 80 min). In addition to the seven players on the field, teams may carry five substitutes and are permitted to make five interchanges throughout the game. Half time intervals are also shorter, with sevens matches consisting of a two minute interval versus 15 minutes in rugby fifteens. Both men and women compete in the World Rugby (WR) World Series consisting of nine and five tournaments each season respectively teams compete in the men s series and teams compete in the women s series. Since its inclusion into the Olympic games program, the popularity of rugby sevens has attracted increased global attention, converting it into one of the fastest growing sports [7]. As a consequence, governing bodies have increased the resources placed into sevens programs. This increase in resources has led to a demand for greater clarity around the specific demands of sevens match play. As a result, there has been some recent research into rugby sevens, mostly focused around men s sevens [14-19, 26-39]. Investigations into rugby sevens performance have focused on physical profiling [18, 29, 32], training load monitoring [26], effect of fatigue on neuromuscular function [37], influence on time of day on lower body power output [36] and match analysis [14-19, 27, 28, 31, 34, 35, 38, 39]. 6

19 Investigation into performance in women s sevens is sparse, with studies of match analysis [1-3, 5, 10], physical profiling [4, 40] and the effect of match play on neuromuscular fatigue and muscle damage [11] the totality of research. The purpose of this review is to report the literature pertaining to the physical demands of rugby sevens match play to date in both the men and women s games. Firstly, literature investigating performance analysis, through the use of time motion analysis and notational analysis, will be reviewed. Thereafter, literature detailing the differences in the physical demands between positional groups, match significance and match outcomes will be summarized and key findings highlighted. The review will attempt to highlight the influences of different aspects on the physical demands of sevens match play. Performance Analysis of Male and Female Rugby Sevens Match Play It is well accepted and documented that males possess superior absolute muscle strength and produce greater power output than their female counterparts in a number of movement patterns and activities [41-43]. Investigations into the direct comparison between the demands of male and female team sports are sparse. Investigation into the highest level of football has revealed some significant differences (P<0.01) in the physical demands of match play between males and females [44]. The authors reported males to cover more distances at high-speed running >18km.h -1 (34%), fatigue less in the second half at speeds <15 km.h -1 (89%) and display more accuracy in skill execution during match play. However, as stated above, with the distinct differences in absolute physical output, relative speed thresholds may well provide a more accurate description of the individual physiological demands. A recent article by Bradley et al. [45] has suggested that the disparity in high speed running and sprinting distances is likely a reflection of sex differences in locomotor ability. The authors continued to suggest setting speed thresholds specific to female football players would provide a more accurate description of the physical demands placed on females during match play. Furthermore, a recent investigation by Clarke et al. [10] exploring physiologically based GPS speed zones in female rugby sevens, reported that the currently used 5 m.s -1, to describe high intensity running, may well underestimate high intensity running in female team sports by as much as 30%. Given this information, caution should be applied when comparisons are made between male and female data when relative or sex specific speed threshold metrics are not reported. It has also been shown in rugby league 7

20 that repeat high intensity effort (in the form of sprinting and tackling) has a greater physiological stress than repeated sprinting in isolation [46]. Therefore, drawing conclusions from non-collision based sports may well be misleading. To date no direct comparisons have been made between male and female rugby sevens match play, thus an aim of this review. Interest in the match performance characteristics of sevens has grown rapidly since its inclusion in the Olympic Games. An understanding of match activities enables strength and conditioners to identify the demands placed on players in competition and apply the information to training, testing and recovery protocols. It has been established in the men s game, that although played on the same sized field and under essentially the same rules as the fifteen-a-side game, the movement patterns and subsequent physical demands vary greatly between the two codes [31]. This would suggest preparation should differ between the two forms of rugby, sevens and fifteens. Consequently, numerous studies have been conducted investigating the demands in the male game [14-19, 27, 28, 31, 33-35]. However, little is known whether differences exist between the movement demands of male and female sevens match play. A better understanding of whether differences exist, would aid in future research direction and may also provide a reference point for coaches to compare information from studies conducted on the male version of the game and its application to the female game. Time Motion Analysis in Rugby Sevens Influences on Total Distances in Rugby Sevens Time motion analysis is a common method used in intermittent team sports to analyse and track player movements [2, 5, 13, 16, 17, 28, 33, 34, 47, 48]. An accurate description of specific match demands such as distances covered at different speeds, average speeds and number and distance of sprints are all important in assessing performance and tracking individual players [49-51]. Time-motion analysis of men s rugby sevens match play has used video analysis [18] and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) [14-17, 19, 28, 31, 33, 34, 52]. Time-motion analysis of women s sevens has used GPS only [2, 3, 5, 9-11]. The studies pertaining to match demands in both male and female sevens can be observed in Tables 1 and 2. There are several factors where caution should be applied when comparing the running demands from these studies. Firstly, the inconsistency in the inclusion criteria for analysis, displayed in Table 1, makes comparisons between studies problematic. It has been shown that substitute 8

21 players cover substantially greater high speed running in the second half when compared to players who contest the entire game [28]. The inclusion of this data may well have an influence on the relative total distances covered, which are reported in many studies. Secondly, the number of tournaments from which data was analysed varies, as does the level of competition. Table 1. Summary of GPS data inclusion criteria in sevens research Study Ross et al. (2014) Ross et al. (2014) Suarez et al. (2014) Granatelli et al. (2014) Higham et al. (2014) Subjects Tournaments Analysed Inclusion criteria 27 Male Int 9 >70% game 11 Male Int 12 Provincial 3 1 time >70% game time 10 Male Club 1 Entire Game 9 Male Club 2 Time on Field 42 Male Int 4 >1min game time Analysed files NS 306 Suarez et al. (2012) Higham et al. (2011) Suarez et al. (2012) Clarke et al. (2013) Yabar et al. (2014) Clarke et al. (2015) Vescovi et al. (2015) NS= Not Stated Int = International Dev= Developmental Dom= Domestic 7 Male Club 1 Entire game Male Int 2 Int NS 75 3 Dom NS Female Int 1 Entire game Female Int 1 Not involved in substitutions 10 Female Int 1 NS Female Club 24 1 NS Female Int 1 NS Female state 1 NS Female Int 1 >6min per half NS 13 Female Dev 1 NS Factors such as tournament location, environmental conditions, quality of opposition, and injuries have been shown to influence a team s performance during competition 9

22 [12]. Therefore, studies that have only collected data from few tournaments may not present an accurate description of the mean physical demands of match play across various situations. The reader needs to be cognisant of these factors when comparisons and conclusions are being made. 10

23 Table 2. Summary of total distances covered during matches using GPS Study Subjects Position Comp TD TD TD Sprinting Number of (Absolute) (m min -1 ) (m/m min -1 ) sprints Ross et al. 27 Male Int Forwards Int 1452m NS 117m *** 7.2 *** (2014) Backs 1420m NS 134m *** 7.8 *** Ross et al. (2014) Suarez et al. (2014) Granatelli et. al (2014) Higham et al. (2014) Suarez et al. (2012) Higham et al. (2011) Suarez et al. (2012) Clarke et al. (2013) Yabar et al. (2014) 11 Male Int NS Int NS 105 m min m min -1*** 8.4 *** 12 Provincial NS Dom NS 105 m min m min -1*** 6.3 *** 10 Male Club All Dom NS 102 m min m min -1** 7.5 ** Forwards NS 98 m min m min -1** 6.5 ** Backs NS 107 m min m min -1** 8.5 ** 9 Male Club All Int* 1221m NS NS NS Forwards 1139m NS NS NS Backs 1292m NS NS NS 42 Male Int Forwards Int NS 96 m min m min -1*** 8.4 *** Backs NS 103 m min m min -1*** 11.2 *** 7 Male Club NS Dom 1580m NS 138 m ** 3.7 ** 19 Male Int NS Int NS 120 m min m min -1*** NS Dom NS 121 m min m min -1*** NS 12 Female Int NS Int 1556m NS 181m ** 2.7 ** 22 Female Int NS Dom NS 86 m min -1 NS NS 10 Female Int NS Int 1642m NS 119m ** 6.5 ** 10 Female Club NS Dom 1363m NS 47m ** 1.6 ** 10

24 Table 2 continued Clarke et al. (2015) Vescovi et al. (2015) 12 Female Int NS Dom NS 97m min -1 NS NS 10 Female State NS Dom NS 94 m min -1 NS NS 16 Female Int NS Dom 1468m 95 m min -1 8 m min -1** NS 13 Female Dev NS Dom m min -1 4 m min -1** NS *International Tournament with domestic teams ** >20hm h -1 *** 6m min -1 NS= Not Stated TD = Total Distance Int= International Dom= Domestic Dev= Developmental #= Number 11

25 A summary of data from studies which have investigated total distance covered during sevens match play can be observed from Table 1. Through the use of GPS, researchers have reported male and female players to travel a mean relative distance of m min -1 and m min -1 respectively, during match play. Absolute distances have been reported from m and m for males and females respectively. Of the total relative distance, it has been reported international men spend ~9% sprinting and perform on average ~8.6 sprints per match. International women seem to spend a similar percentage of their relative total distance sprinting (~9%) however, perform 50% fewer sprints (above 20 km.h -1 or 6 m.min -1 ) during games. Domestic men spend 9% of the total distance sprinting and complete six sprints per match, whereas domestic women only spend 3% sprinting and complete two sprints per match. It would seem a clear difference exists between international and domestic match play in the female game with authors reporting a 16% difference in the total distances covered [1, 2, 9, 53]. This difference does not seem to exist in the male game however, with no difference in total distances covered by international players observed when compared to domestic players during match play [28, 52]. This large difference between domestic and international match play in women s sevens could well be attributed to the relatively young age of competitive women s sevens, with the first WR Women s World Sevens Series only being played in The WR Men s Sevens World Series on the other hand, has been in place since It is possible that the more established male game may have more mature domestic programs that may have consequently lead to the reduction in the gap between international and domestic match play. With dedicated coaches and conditioning coaches more prevalent at the international level in the female game, international players are more likely to have superior physical capacities, which could account for the large difference in match performance. However, there is little research to back this contention. The difference between the reported relative total distances covered by male and female international players appears to be moderate (~16% greater in males). It should be noted however, that none of the international match play research carried out in the female game was conducted during the WR Women s Sevens Series, which involves the top female teams in the world. The quality of opposition may well have an influence on the running demands. Suarez et al [33], noted that during their study on the male game, the analysed players won most of their games quite convincingly, with most 12

26 games being decided by half time. This is likely to have reduced the overall running demands during the second half. One could suggest that score differentials or the quality of opposition may well influence the running demands during match play. Additionally, all studies conducted on the female game have only collected data from one tournament. As highlighted, there are several factors which may influence a team s performance during competition [12]. Therefore, collecting data from only one tournament may not be a true reflection of the mean physical demands. No researchers to date have reported the running demands during WR Women s World Series tournament match play across multiple tournaments and therefore further investigation is warranted to arrive at normative data that is representative of the female game. The Influence of Playing Position on the Physical Demands in Rugby Sevens A sevens team consists of two distinct positional categories of which there are three forwards and four backs. Forwards are required to perform two position specific tasks of scrums and lineouts which both have unique energy demands. It is unknown whether these tasks may influence the match play and running demands during match play. To date, five studies in the male game have compared the movement pattern differences between positional groups [15-18, 33]. Reinzi et al [18], through the use of video based time motion analysis using subjective speed zones, reported forwards had a 17% higher frequency of jogs and a 30% higher frequency in static poses compared to backs. However, with the use of subjective speed zones, the analysis of only one tournament and the intra observer reliability for analysis not reported, comparisons to other such studies using GPS is problematic. It should also be noted the tournament analysed was played in One would suggest the game has developed significantly since then. Granatelli et al. [17] reported positional differences between halves for the total distance covered with backs covering 12% greater total distance than forwards in the first and second halves. It should be noted however, that parameters around GPS analysis were unclear, simply using time spent playing for analysis. With Higham et al. [28] reporting substitute players to perform significantly greater high intensity running volume in the second half (123%), one could expect substitute players would influence the average distances covered and it would suggest setting parameters around GPS analysis is of importance. Higham et al. [16] reported that international backs compared to forwards achieved 6% higher maximal velocity, performed 12% more accelerations, 13

27 9% more decelerations and covered 7% greater distances 3.5 m.s -1 and overall total distance. Table 3. Summary of differences in positional running demands in men s rugby sevens Study Subjects Measure Difference Reinzi et al. (1999) Granatelli et al. (2014) 30 male International Jogging* + Forwards (61.4±13.5 compared to 51.2±10.3)*** Static poses* + Forwards (62.1±12.6 compared to 43.6±10.3)*** 9 male club TD 1 st half + Backs (677±60 m compared to between 599±60m)**** halves 2 nd half + Backs (615±87 m compared to 540±51 m)**** Higham et al. (2014) Suarez et al. (2013) Ross et al. (2014) 42 male International Max velocity + Backs (8±1.1 m s -1 compared to 7.5±0.9 m s -1 ) Accelerations + Backs (4.1±1.1 min -1 compared to 3.6±0.9 min -1 ) Decelerations + Backs (3.2±0.9 min -1 compared to 2.9±0.7 min -1 ) TD + Backs (103±14 m min -1 compared to 96 ± 12 m min -1 ) 10 male club TD + Backs (+10±0.96%; moderate ES)** Distance >14 km h -1 + Backs (+26.4±6.2%; moderate ES)** Distance >20 km h -1 + Backs (+35±10.8%; moderate ES)** Maximum sprint + Backs (+15.8±4.2%; small ES)** distances 27 male Maximal velocity + Backs (+5.9%; moderate ES)** international *Subjective measure **Cohen ES statistics trivial ( ); small ( ); moderate ( ); large ( ); and very large (>2.0) ***Frequency ****Factorial ANOVA; p = 0.03 TD= Total Distance +=Greater The authors reported that although the differences were small to moderate, they were deemed to be of practical importance. Suarez et al. [33] reported that domestic backs covered 9% more total distance, 21% higher distances at speeds >14.0 km h -1 and 26% 14

28 greater distances at speeds >20.0 km h -1 than forwards. Ross et al. [15] reported the absence of substantial difference in the overall physical demands between international forwards and backs. Match demand differences were small for all running variables and match activities. Some clear trends seem to exist in the literature pertaining to the male game. It would seem for the most part that backs cover greater distances, distances at high-speed thresholds and achieve higher velocities compared to forwards. To date no studies have reported the differences in the positional running demands in female rugby sevens. Furthermore, little is known in the female game of the non-running demands. A better understanding of the total match demands between positional groups will provide coaches and conditioners with a better framework to prescribe trainings. The Influence of Game Significance on the Physical Demands of Match Play The influence of the level of competition has received some attention in rugby sevens in both the male [28, 52] and female games [3]. Higham et al. [28] reported mostly trivial and small differences in running demands between international and provincial male seven s players. However, the same players, who were international players, were analysed for both international and provincial games. As it is likely international players will possess greater physical capacities than provincial players, collecting data from an international player, playing in a provincial tournament, may not provide an accurate description of the match demands at a provincial level. Ross et al. [52] reported significant differences in high speed running (15%, ES=0.3) and rucks attended (ES=0.54) for international players compared to provincial. The authors also reported that international matches involved substantially greater active ball in play cycles (12%, ES=1.32) than provincial matches. In the only study to date performed on the female game exploring the differences in competition level, Portillo et al. [3] reported international players to cover 17% greater total distances and perform 2.3 times greater high speed running meters. Indeed it seems that the physical demands of match play may increase as the level of competition increases, however, little is known of whether the quality of the opposition within the same level of competition may influence the physical demands of match play. Higham et al. [28] reported some small differences (4-18%) in movement patterns between tournament rounds for both international and provincial tournaments, however 15

29 the authors did not state whether the teams were competing in the cup (top half of teams from pool play) or the bowl (bottom half of teams from pool play). Competing in the bowl would likely result in a lower level of competition. Considering this, Ross et al. [15] compared the physical demands of pool play and cup matches and although the running demands and match activities did not differ significantly, a large (ES = 1.5) difference in the average ball-in-play time and a large increase (proportion ratio = 0.46) in the number of ball-in-play sequences > 60s was observed from the cup as compared to the pool round. However, the increase in the average activity sequence in cup rounds was coupled with an increase in recovery time between efforts resulting in a similar work to rest ratio between rounds. The authors concluded that the lack of clear differences in activities performed between pool and cup rounds may suggest a relatively stable overall competition level. To date, no studies have investigated whether a difference exists in the physical demands between pool matches and cup matches in female rugby seven s tournaments, consequently further investigation is warranted. The Influence of Match Outcomes and Score Differentials on the Physical Demands of Match Play There are a number of influences that may play a role in a player s activity profile during match play. To date, the influence of match outcomes (i.e. winning/losing and score differential) on the physical demands of rugby sevens match play has received little attention. Only one study to date has been conducted in the male game [19]. Some research has been conducted in rugby league [24], football [21, 22] and Australian football (AFL) [25], with conflicting results. A study by Murray et al [19], characterized the activity profiles of international male sevens players during peak periods of play. The authors reported players performed more high speed running in the second half when the score was close and concluded that players are likely to perform more running when playing against higher ranked opponents. Researchers in football have assessed the within league influence of success, reporting that less successful teams covered greater distances in both high speed running and sprinting [22]. Furthermore, it has been shown that players from less successful teams have greater activity profiles than those from successful teams [20, 22, 54]. Investigation into AFL [25] has shown a similar trend, with authors reporting less successful teams are likely to have an increased physical activity profile and decreased 16

30 skill involvement and proficiency when compared with successful teams. Investigations into rugby league however, have provided contrasting results with Gabbett et al. [24] reporting the physical demands (e.g. distance covered, maximal accelerations and repeated high-intensity effort performance) of winning teams to be significantly greater than losing teams. The authors also reported that larger winning margins were associated with greater physical running demands when compared to moderate and small winning margins. It was suggested that the competitive advantage of a successful team in rugby league is linked to the ability to maintain higher playing intensity than that of less successful teams [24]. This study was however, only conducted on one team. In a similar study by Hulin et al. [55], the authors compared the match physical demands of two separate teams which were categorized as successful and un-successful based on winning percentages throughout the season. Interestingly, the findings from this study were in contrast to the study by Gabbet et al. [20]. The authors reported that the less successful team covered greater total distances and performed more high intensity running. The authors concluded that caution should be applied when interpreting time motion analysis in isolation as technical and tactical differences may well be the distinguishing factors between successful and less successful teams. Therefore, success may be the result of a multifactorial relationship between technical, tactical abilities and activity profiles. Further investigation into the influence of match outcomes on the physical demands will provide coaches and conditioners with an accurate description of the demands from game to game, which in turn, will aid in the prescription of appropriate rest and recovery protocols. Likewise, further investigation will add to the body of literature to provide a better understanding of these influences on the physical demands of sevens match play. To date no such studies have been performed in women s rugby sevens. Notational Analysis in Sevens Rugby The study of sport through the observation of players and teams match activity is vitally important for the organization, design, teaching and training of team sports [56]. The information collected is critical in the identification of success factors and individual player assessments that can be used to track player performance over a period of time. These statistics provide a valuable description of the nature of the sport and may assist coaches in the development of team match preparation. Match 17

31 statistics collected in rugby sevens, as with other sports, provides coaches with useful, objective and critical information on the strategies, tactics and patterns of play employed by opposition teams, technical proficiency of teams and key performance indicators which may indicate successful and unsuccessful teams. Notational analysis has been extensively used in men s 15-a-side rugby union to determine positional differences in match demands [13, 57, 58], performance analysis [59, 60] and to determine team and individual skills that may lead to success [58-61]. Table 4. Summary of notational analysis studies perform on men s rugby sevens Study Subjects Tournament Van Rooyen et al. (2008) 9 International teams 2005 Seven World Cup Measure of Success Reaching semi-final or final Success Factors Teams had to maintain possession for 30-60sec and converted 30% into points Hughes and Jones (2005) 6 International teams 2001 IRB World Sevens Series Winning percentage 70% 33% Fewer rucks Missed 50% fewer tackles 21% more clean line breaks Higham et al. (2014) All International teams competing in 2011 IRB World Sevens Series 2011 IRB World Sevens Series Mean team ranking Entries into the opposition s 22- m zone per match Tries per entry into the opposition s 22-m zone Tackles per match Passes per match Rucks per match Higher percentage of tackle completion To date there has been no research on notational analysis in women s rugby sevens match play, with only five studies performed in the men s game [15, 27, 35, 52], which are summarized in Table s 4 and 5. Van Rooyen et al. [35] investigated the frequency and duration of different phases of play and compared these statistics between successful and unsuccessful teams. It was reported that time in possession of the ball did not differentiate between successful and unsuccessful teams, however teams that reached the semi-finals held the ball for 30 to 60 seconds at a time and converted 30% of those possessions to score. Hughes and Jones [62] compared the playing patterns of successful (winning percentage 70 %) and unsuccessful (winning percentage <70 %) teams from 16 18

32 games from the 2001 IRB Sevens World Series. The authors reported successful teams on average formed 33% fewer rucks, missed 50% fewer tackles and had 21% more clean line breaks than unsuccessful teams. It is possible however, that the game has evolved significantly since 2001, and it is therefore possible the above findings are somewhat out-dated. Higham et al. [27] reported more entries into the opposition s 22-m zone per match, tries per entry into the opposition s 22-m zone, tackles per match, passes per match, rucks per match and a higher percentage of tackle completion were associated with a better mean ranking. However, this study was limited to official match statistics routinely collected during the WR Sevens World Series. There is still little known about the individual match activities of rugby sevens match play as the above studies have all focused on tactical aspects of the game. Although useful, they do not aid in the understanding of total physical match demands. To date only two studies have extensively reported the match activities during male sevens match play (Table 5). Ross et al.[15] explored the differences between positional groups and pool versus cup games for an international team. The authors reported mostly trivial to small differences, across a multitude of match activities (see Table 5), for both positions and pool versus cup matches. It was concluded that due to the lack of clear difference between positional groups for both running demands and match activities, position specific preparation was not required. Similarly Ross et al. [52] explored the differences between international and domestic match play across the same match activities. Substantial differences were reported in the frequency and execution quality between many activities, with international players performing more effective tackles and less handling errors. A better understanding of the individual demands may help to aid in the specificity of training prescription particularly around skill development. The paucity of research on notational analysis of individual match activities in rugby sevens, in particular to the women s game, warrants further investigation. 19

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